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For the Love of... Moshiach
by Rabbi Zvi Homnick
One of the personal quirks that I held on to as I entered the transitional period of seriously investigating Chassidus with an open mind was my fascination with extreme statements and beliefs.  As an opponent of a given philosophy and worldview, it is useful to unearth the most far-out and extreme formulations of that belief system, since those provide the easiest targets for ridicule.  On the flip side, when trying to acquire a comprehensive “big picture” view of a wide ranging ideological construct, it is essential to see not only the central tenets but the “edges” of the picture as well.  Simply put, you don't fully understand and appreciate any idea or belief until you can see just how far it goes.
In retrospect, my perhaps perverse perseverance in pursuing the putatively peripheral but altogether revealing “inside” material, stood me in good stead over the long haul.  If I could decipher, process, and ultimately accept the ideas that to an “outsider” seemed the most untenable, even crazy, then nothing could shake my conviction.  If on the other hand, I found that “these people” have some nice, even compelling, ideas and beliefs, but the applications of those ideas and beliefs are a little too “out there” for me, I would know to respect and love them as G-d fearing and well meaning Jews while keeping a certain distance.  (That is pretty much what happened when I managed to dig up the inside, not for public consumption, teachings and beliefs of the Breslover Chassidim.  I enjoy the teachings, have a special warm and fuzzy place in my heart for the adherents, but I realized that for me this wasn't “it.”)
In fact, over the years, I have seen numerous people drawn to the teachings of Chabad Chassidus and greatly inspired, but when confronted with some of the conclusions and implications of the belief system that seemed far away from the “mainstream,” they balked.  So, in my personal odyssey, instead of looking just for the inspirational and uplifting insights that Chassidus could provide, I actively sought out the “sharp” and seemingly outrageous aphorisms and axioms, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out what each was based on and if it rang true. 
I imagine that I was also influenced by an earlier fascination with the Kotzker Chassidim, whose guiding principle was that if a thing was worth doing then it was worth doing “all the way,” and conversely, if you're not prepared to go “all the way” then you are probably just wasting your time.  (Obviously, the converse doesn't apply to the obligations facing every Jew as laid out in the Code of Jewish Law).
In that spirit, when I encountered the following quote from a sicha of the Rebbe Rayatz citing Reb Eizik of Homil (13 Tammuz, 5691, Eng. Likkutei Dibburim vol. 5 p. 115-133), I knew I hit the jackpot:
“Shlomo HaMelech was a man of amazing wisdom as it is written, 'And G-d gave Shlomo wisdom,' and 'Wisdom and knowledge are granted to you.'  Now what could be greater, loftier and better than wisdom, particularly the very essence of wisdom?  Nevertheless, he didn't have a Rebbe.  If he had had a Rebbe to go to, then not only would his wisdom have been loftier, he would also have had Chassidic companions and been present at Chassidic farbrengens.  And then, all his powerful images of 'lover' and 'beloved,' he would have drawn from Chassidim and their Rebbe.”
This was about as extreme and outrageous as you could get.  (In fact, when the Rebbe referred to this quote during a sicha on Simchas Torah 5716/1955, he only alluded to it without repeating the whole statement and he explained, “The Rebbe [Rayatz] said it in Riga, and from there it made its way to Warsaw and Lithuania.  The tumult this engendered was huge.  Basically, things got really lively and I am afraid to repeat it in order to not to create another tumult.”)  If I could wrap my brain around this gem and make some sense of it, and if somehow I managed to actually relate to the underlying premise, then I would be well along on my way – or else, out the door as fast as my feet could take me.
Since I, like Shlomo HaMelech, had no Rebbe nor had I experienced the world of Chassidic fellowship, clearly I would be at the same disadvantage.  However, what I needed to figure out was if this was something I even wanted to strive for and become a part of or not, and the only tools at my disposal would be my mind and imagination.  In the previously alluded to Song of Songs, Shlomo HaMelech writes, “Because love is as powerful as death.”  Sadly, in the real world, many people go through life, and even married life, without experiencing anything near as intense as the biblical analogy in question, although they likely have enough familiarity with the subject matter to at least be able to conjure up such an intense passion in their imaginations. 
Could I even imagine that kind of love for a saintly old Rabbi, a man I would never have the opportunity of having a conversation with, or building any kind of personal relationship with outside of his teachings and public appearances?
On the 10th of Shevat in the winter of 1997, I was attending the main farbrengen in 770 when I was approached by a group of young teenage bachurim, who asked me to come and farbreng with them.  Since the group included a number of boys who might otherwise be involved in less constructive activities, I agreed.  We went upstairs to the “second room” off of the small zal, and began to farbreng.
Since Yud Shevat is the day of the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz, when the leadership was passed along to the Rebbe, Chassidim have dubbed this day the “Rosh HaShana of Hiskashrus” (lit. attachment, bonding – Chassidic term of devotion to the Rebbe).  In that spirit, I tried to convey to these youngsters the basis of the feelings that a Chassid feels towards his Rebbe, particularly, love and devotion.  In the middle of our informal talk, a fellow in his twenties approached our table and displaying all the signs of intoxication (real or feigned) began to berate me.  I can't recall his diatribe verbatim, but the following is a fairly close approximation:
“Homnick, you're an idiot.  You don't know anything.  You get up and talk about love for the Rebbe, but you don't know the first thing about it.  I'm only telling you this because I love you and I really feel sorry for you.  You have no idea what it's like to grow up with the Rebbe, following him around and watching his every move.  Do you know what it is to be a little kid who instead of going out to play, runs to 770 to catch another glimpse of the Rebbe?  To stand outside in the cold of winter or the heat of summer for hours, hoping to see the Rebbe leaving his house or 770?  You think you can just show up, and since you're a smart guy you can get up and become a big-shot in Lubavitch, but you don't begin to know what you're talking about.”
This was the gist of it, although there was much repetition and the occasional invective (not suitable for a family publication), plus assorted insults.  The boys offered to toss him out on his head, but I adjured them not to.  I explained to them that one of the things I had missed out on growing up was the old-fashioned no holds barred farbrengens of yesteryear, where Chassidim felt free to point out shortcomings and areas requiring improvement to their fellow Chassidim, in a spirit of love and mutual concern.  Although this individual's claim that he was telling me all of this out of love was dubious at best, clearly Divine Providence was at work and I needed to hear these things.  After all, how does one go from having a hard time even imagining a certain kind of love to actually experiencing that love?
There is a great deal of confusion in the world when it comes to love.  That there is confusion in secular society, particularly in matters of the heart, is no surprise.  Sadly, within the Jewish world, and even the Chassidic world whose credo is based on the three loves of G-d, Torah and one's fellow Jews, clarity is hard to come by.  The Alter Rebbe with Chabad Chassidus provides us with a road map as well as a vocabulary with which to develop, train, and guide our emotions. 
The first foundational fact one needs to know about love is – all love is self-love.  Since the very emotion of love is entirely an expression of self, “I love,” and there is no such thing as love without an “I” doing the loving, what and who I love is also only a reflection of self.  “I love” myself, what is a part of me, an extension of me, something or someone that benefits and/or complements me.  There is no such thing as selfless love, because if the self is not involved there is no love.  That is why the Talmud asserts that gentiles are incapable of altruism, because even the most profound expressions of love and kindness are no more than expressions of self.  You can't love or feel kindly disposed to someone or something unless there is some benefit for you.
What makes a Jew different is that the Jew has more than one self; the animal soul that is his conscious self, and the G-dly soul which is his true inner self.  And since the G-dly soul perceives that its “self” is nothing more than an expression of G-d, the nature of that “self” is that it wants to return to its source and become consumed there so that it no longer experiences “self” as separate from G-d.  It is only regarding a Jewish G-dly soul that we can talk about love that “transcends” self, since its self-driven desire is to stop being only a “part of G-d, Above, literally,” and return to being indistinct from the “whole.”
Although the animal soul of a Jew is inherently self-centered, and as such is only capable of loving that which it perceives as related to or advantageous to self, unlike the soul of the gentile, it has the potential for reeducation by the G-dly soul to actually appreciate and be attracted to G-d and G-dliness.  This is what is meant by loving G-d with both sides of the heart and both inclinations.  It is to this end that Shlomo HaMelech uses imagery that the animal soul can relate to and be inspired to love G-d with a fiery passion.  The problem is that after the passage of thousands of years, as the world and the Jew have slipped into progressively deeper levels of divine concealment, analogies don't work anymore.  In fact, there are those who have taken those very songs of unrequited love and used them in ways that are contrary to their true purpose.
In order to reveal the capacity for love of G-d that exists within the animal soul of a Jew, Chassidus came and revealed the innermost powers of the G-dly soul, but it also provided a tangible locus for that love, since the animal soul has a much easier time relating to what it can see on a physical level.  The companionship of Chassidim when one travels to the Rebbe is the training grounds in which the animal soul learns to take that first step in transcending self, by learning to love others truly “like yourself,” because we all originate from the same source, and the Rebbe is the physical manifestation of the “Divine Source” where the souls of all the Jewish people are still “One” (see Tanya ch. 2, ch. 32).  Going to the Rebbe enables the person to experience whole new dimensions of love for his fellow Chassidim, and from there to all Jews, and sharing the experience of seeing the Rebbe with other Chassidim intensifies the love for the Rebbe.  All of this is so that it is no longer the G-dly soul alone experiencing self-transcendent love of G-d, but the animal soul is elevated to the level that it feels and experiences such love as well.
What Reb Eizik was observing was not that the Chassid/Rebbe relationship offers a better analogy than that chosen by Shlomo HaMelech (which is probably what the “tummelers”  were “fartummelt” about).  He was observing that this relationship took what previously could only be related to by way of analogies, which by definition are difficult to translate into a personalized emotional experience, and made it accessible through a tangible real-life experiential medium.
Some Chassidim struggle with the concern that this heady and intense love relationship they experienced in the presence of the Rebbe over the years will change when Moshiach comes.  When the leader is a king rather than just a Rebbe, and he is also the king of the whole world, clearly that bespeaks a different type of relationship.  There are many who, if they were honest with themselves, would admit that they prefer going back to the way things were.  That is because they can't “imagine” reaching even greater heights of love for G-d and His “anointed one.” 
However, Chassidus has always been about taking the person beyond what he can imagine through analogies and descriptions, and bringing the Divine reality down into the tangible reality.  Just as Chassidim throughout the generations had to understand that this experience was in order to make love of G-d more attainable, similarly, we need to know that what we had (even those who grew up with the Rebbe...) was so that we transcend “self” and selfish desires.  If you really love G-d and you really love the Torah, and you really love your fellow Jews, and you acquired all this through love of the Rebbe and love for your fellow Chassidim, then you need to channel all that love into bringing about the revelation of Moshiach, immediately, NOW!


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